Went to Williamsport, Pa., last week and saw the Phenix City ( Ala.) team win the U.S. Little League championship.
They never played the Nuts. Actually, the team of 11- and 12-year-olds that I coach in the Denver Catholic Youth Recreation Association is the Good Shepherd Grizzlies, but we call ourselves the Nuts because our first and foremost goal each season is to learn how to eat sunflower seeds without using our hands, indoors or out. (Very big with the mothers.) We even have a cheer we holler before each game:
Elbows, knees, ankles, butts!
No one beats us!
We're the Nuts!
Near as I could see, there was nothing about Phenix City or any other team in the series this year that would crack the Nuts. True, the worst player on any of the eight Little League regional champions would possibly be the best on my team. And the smallest kid on Phenix City would be one of my biggest. (I had two kids this year who could sit on first and dangle their feet.) And, true, one kid on the Latin American champions was six feet, 170 pounds and had a second mortgage. I didn't even have parents who were six feet, 170.
But can the players in Williamsport do what my kids can do? For instance, could any third baseman there name the make, model and year of any car that drives by? "That's a 1991 Honda Civic CRX in the metallic burgundy with the optional roof package," our third baseman, Grant, would tell me during a game.
"Amazing, Grant!" I'd say. "Now, will you be getting the grounder that just rolled by your feet, or should I ask the left-fielder to come in?"
The Phenix City coach, Tony Rasmus, said his third pitcher had a "good fastball and a good changeup." But what would he give to have my third pitcher, whose fastball is his changeup? Yeah, his outfielders go down on one knee for every grounder, but so what? My outfielders go down on one knee, too (but only for worms). I bet his kids don't steal bases like we do. Of course, we have to steal. We only have two helmets. Can Phenix City players hit while backing out of the batter's box? Can they field line drives matador style? Can they apply a tag with both feet in the air, eyes closed?